Pyotr (or Peter, as we would say in English) Ilyich Tchaikovsky (pronounced Chai koff ski) was born in Votkinsk, Russia in 1840. He is one of the most famous composers of the Romantic Period.
Tchaikovsky was one of six children. His father worked as an engineer inspecting mines. His mother was from a French and Russian family, so Tchaikovsky learned to read in French, German and Russian. He also had a French governess.
When he was 8 the family moved to St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg, his parents sometimes took him to concerts. Peter loved music and after concerts he sometimes complained that he could not fall asleep because of the music stuck in his head. He had music lessons from a young age but didn't think of becoming a professional musician since it wasn't considered an "acceptable" profession. Peter was a very sensitive child. He often got upset about things that really weren't such a big deal. Peter's sensitivity would stay with him his whole life. There are some people who think that it was one of the things that made him able to compose such beautiful music.
When Peter was 14, his mother died and soon after that his governess left the family. Peter's father decided that Peter should be sent to study law and when he was 19 he graduated from Law School and became a lawyer in a government office. He worked hard, but he hated the job.
When he was 22 he left his job and went to study music full time in the new St. Petersburg Conservatory. After he graduated, he moved to Moscow to teach at the new conservatory there. It is now named for him.
In 1877 Tchaikovsky married the twenty-eight-year-old Antonina Miliukova, his student at the conservatory. The marriage only lasted a few days and then Peter left Russia for Switzerland. He made arrangements through his relatives to never see his wife again.
Soon after he left Russia, Peter was introduced (by letter) to a rich widow named Nadezhda von Meck. She was a big fan of Tchaikovsky's music and sent him money so that he could concentrate on composing without having to worry about making a living. The only condition was that Nadezhda von Meck didn't want to meet Tchaikovsky in person. For 14 years, they only communicated by writing letters to each other.
Tchaikovsky traveled all over Europe for performances of his music. In 1891, he even went to America for the opening of Carnegie Hall, where he was invited to conduct his music.
Even though Peter's music was famous, he was never completely happy or satisfied with his life and he was always worried that his music wasn't popular or accepted. In October of 1893, he conducted the first performance of his sixth symphony. Nine days later he died from a disease called cholera.
Tchaikovsky wrote 7 symphonies, 3 string quartets, 11 operas, 5 suites, 3 piano concertos, and 11 overtures and many other pieces but he is probably best known for his ballet music. Tchaikovsky wrote music for the ballets Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. For The Nutcracker he used a new instrument, the celeste, that he had to sneak into Russia from France. In another of his most famous works, The 1812 Overture, he used real cannons! Tchaikovsky's music has become some of the most popular music of the Romantic Period.